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"Spitting" case judge under pressure to go

Martin Schubarth wants to remain in his post until June 2004 Keystone

Switzerland’s Federal Court says it wants a judge accused of spitting at a journalist to step down sooner than planned.

This content was published on October 7, 2003 - 16:52

Martin Schubarth handed in his resignation on Sunday, saying he would leave his post in June 2004.

But Heinz Aemisegger, the court’s president, believes Schubarth should be replaced as quickly as possible, calling his decision to stay on for another nine months “totally incomprehensible”.

The 61-year-old judge sparked controversy in February when he was accused of spitting at a journalist from the German-language daily, “Neue Zürcher Zeitung”, at the entrance to the Federal Court.

The federal judges called for Schubarth’s resignation shortly after the incident, and suspended him from his duties.

“For the past eight months we have been working with 29 instead of 30 judges,” Aemisegger said. “Things can’t continue like this for long.”

Julian Hottinger, a political analyst at Fribourg University's Institute for Federalism, says there is a general consensus across the judicial and political spheres that Schubarth should not stay in his post.

"Everyone is clear on this issue: we are confronted with someone who has problems with behaviour," he told swissinfo. "The truth is there is a feeling that he needs to step out of what we call the respectable circle of the federal judges."

Parliamentary report

A parliamentary management committee report released on Monday also concluded that Schubarth should resign as soon as possible.

As well as investigating the spitting incident, the report looked into a number of irregularities during Schubarth’s time as president of the Appeals Court.

It stated that while in this post, Schubarth declared in a note accompanying a legal dossier that a unanimous verdict had been reached, when in fact it was a majority.

The report contains a number of suggestions for bringing more transparency to the actions and decisions of federal judges.

Aemisegger commended the report and said he would consider the recommendations.

However, he said he saw no need for any legal moves against Schubarth.

Meanwhile, Hottinger says the latest pressure on Schubarth to resign early may make no difference.

"If the federal judges don't manage to talk him into resigning early, they will just wait the situation out," Hottinger told swissinfo.

Denial

Schubarth has always denied the spitting incident, claiming he had a coughing fit, and said he had apologised the same day.

He maintained his stepping down had nothing to do with accusations that he had spat on a journalist, saying the main reason for his resignation was the treatment judges received.

“I am resigning in protest at the lack of respect for a federal judge’s independence,” Schubarth said.

Schubarth has been no stranger to controversy during his career.

Before his re-election last year, his actions were investigated by a parliamentary commission, although it found no evidence of professional misconduct.

When he was first elected as a Federal Court judge in 1982, he was criticised for his support of the anti-atomic energy movement.

Schubarth has also been a member of the Social Democratic Party until he broke the relationship off last year.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Martin Schubarth was elected to the Federal Court in 1982.
At his re-election in 1990, he was forced to go to a second round of voting before being approved.
Schubarth was court vice-president between 1997-98.
He was president between 1999-2001.
Federal Court judges are elected by the Swiss parliament.

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